Amen, then what?

October 23, 2007

by Ann

What happens to the priesthood as power when amen is said?

Here is an example. For many years, a man with the office of High Priest served in his ward and stake, on the bishopric, in the high council, and as a teacher and leader. He was a consistent home teacher, gave blessings, baptized his children, held family home evenings, and was in every apparent way a good Saint and a worthy holder of the priesthood.

For ten years of this, he was sexually assaulting his daughters. While functioning as a priesthood holder, he was a pedophile.

I understand in theory that ordinances are not corrupted or invalid if the person administering them does so unworthily. Why not? If power and authority flow from the priesthood, and the minister has none, then how can the ordinances be in any way effective? LDS don’t accept other religions’ baptisms as valid because they have no authority to perform them. This man had no authority, either! And yet, none of his ordinances had to be repeated.

This is not a hypothetical question. There are some good thinky people here. I’d love to hear your ideas about this.



  1. A couple of thoughts/questions:

    1. Are priesthood and authority completely interchangeable? Elder Oaks says that priesthood and authority are not the same thing. I don’t know that that makes any difference to your questions, to be honest, but I am sort of chewing on what it really means to say ‘amen’ to a man’s priesthood. It seems to me that this can come and go…that the amen is not a permanent state…perhaps a bit like when we offend the Spirit and He leaves but then we repent and it comes back.

    2. Is the authority all just about the person, or because the ordinance is performed in an authorized way, in the authorized Church? Obviously, we place some emphasis on the worthiness of the person, but there is more to the authority than just the person performing the ordinance.

    3. So my line of thinking goes from there to saying that, personally, I think the authority in the Savior and the power of His atonement simply cover for these kinds of things. The priesthood of that man may be amenned, but the priesthood of God vested in teh Church has not been. The validation of ordinances by God has not ceased.
    Power and authority flow from the priesthood — and that priesthood doesn’t originate in the person but from God. So if the specific conduit is faulty (if the man’s priesthood is amenned), I imagine there are backup channels directly from God to make up the difference.

    Having been a temple worker, and finding out that I goofed in some way after it was too late to go back and change what I had missed or done wrong, I became all the more grateful for the atonement because there is SO much that is imperfect about our ordinance work, even though it’s supposed to be precise, word-for-word, all-the-ducks-in-a-row-like. In reality, since ordinances are performed by imperfect people, I have to believe that the atonement is big enough to cover these things. This is true for all that we do, no? What should my parenting look like? What about my fulfillment of callings? The atonement must step in and rescue us and others from us and others constantly.

    In the end, these weren’t ‘his’ ordinances. They were done in the name of the Savior, with HIS authority.

    This story makes me very, very sad. And frightened for him. I can’t imagine that mocking God in that way goes over well in heaven.

  2. Ha. Well, the scripture itself says both priesthood and authority of the man is cut off (it was late and I went simply by the theme’s phrasing). Still, I think that the difference between a man losing authority and other churches not being able to have valid baptisms is not about individuals’ authority per se, but about the institutional authority.

  3. The primary reason why sinful priests must be understood to perform valid sacraments is logistical. The Christian church had learned by the 4th century that any other doctrine invites chaos.

    Let’s say your child-molesting high priest had been doling out sacraments (baptism, confirmation, ordination to the priesthood) for twenty years. Let’s say his sacraments were all invalid because of his sinful condition. In the first place, they would be invalid whether he was found out (on Earth) or not, because presumably his priesthood’s invalidity was recorded in heaven. Let’s say he ordained somebody, who baptized somebody, who ordained somebody, who baptized you. You had never heard of this guy, but your baptism is invalid because the righteous person who baptized you did not actually hold the priesthood because the person who ordained him was not a valid member because the person who baptized that person had not been validly ordained due to this high priest’s sinful condition.

    In this situation, every ordinance would be in question and nobody would know if their own priesthood was valid or not. And quite often when these sins were exposed, it would be found out that whole chains of members were not members and all the ordinances would constantly require reordination. You might start getting annoyed at this doctrine after you’d been rebaptized for the 5th time.

    In order to justify this practical position, M&M is absolutely right that Catholic/Orthodox Christianity came up with the theological position that ordinances are performed ex opere operato, instead of ex opere operantis. That is, it is God who gives the sacrament its umph (not the priesthood holder), and God’s power can work through any channel, no matter how unworthy.

    See the 4th-century Donatist Heresy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donatist

  4. The slippery slope you get on when you start to say that,
    “It is God who gives the sacrament its umph (not the priesthood holder), and God’s power can work through any channel, no matter how unworthy.”
    is that you are eroding away the need for a Priesthood at all. Why would God restore the Priesthood when it is He who does all the work anyway?
    At the same time, I do agree that if a man baptizes me with a sin on his conscience, but my intentions and soul are pure, the ordinance is valid. I think it is when the Church begins to knowingly allow Priesthood holders to preform ordinances that Apostasy is at the doorsteps.

  5. (Sorry so late with the reply, all. It’s been a week.) Thank you for that interesting correlation between Mormon Doctrine and apostate Christianity, John.

    Perhaps the church is able to maintain its authority and to assert the validity of the priesthood itself, as a function and an office, because God has chosen the church as his vehicle for these ordinances. The church does its best to maintain the integrity of the office by monitoring the worthiness of those who hold the office and removing those who should not hold it.

  6. Justin, I agree that knowingly allowing someone to function in a priesthood capacity is problematic, but that isn’t what Ann was talking about, was it? I thought she was talking about someone hiding his sins. Agency makes life messy, even in the church sometimes. But these situations are the exception. I think when it comes to worthiness, the Church tries to hold up a consistent standard.

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